Survivors in Solidarity: A Message to Survivors & Allies of Sexual Assault

The Voice of a Survivor’s Truth

Eyes wide open, yet sealed shut with tears flowing down my cheek. No one there to hear my whimpered cries as tears collapse on the pillow-seeping sorrow into the sheets of lost hope-frozen in the reality of what was taking place. Not once, but multiple times–in my lifetime. In a house was a room where he disregarded my plea for no penetration-stating that I wanted it-although my words kept denying it. In the basement, another man searched in my undercover private chest down under–for treasure he should have left unfound. In the halls, a boy swiped up my skirt, amusing himself, without knowledge that I was already “claimed” to be the property of no one who truly had the right to ‘own’ me in the first place. Within church walls, I was pulled closer and closer, held longer and longer, and hushed while kisses I was expected to give on the cheek to elders out of respect, became the reason I despised being a Haitian for 6 years-stemming from a simple addition of Sun-day’s kisses. On the street, I became the pet at the zoo. Touched in sacred bodily places as seeing became what one did with their hands, no longer with their eyes-serving as a prize for competitions, I never entered. By the age of 11, my life and perception of self-worth began to be altered before I could even formulate what my worth meant to me. A victim of sexual assault became part of my narrative before my future could be clearly be defined by me. A victim of the environment and world I was taught to be a place of protection, until protection was altered by an irreconcilable breach of territory and safety.

It wasn’t until I was 14 years old in a sex ed. class did I even comprehend the truth of what sexual assault was. Immediately; heat took over my body, instant nausea boiled in my gut, sweat perfidiously escaping the palms of my hands, pebbled tears inching to come out but suppressed to deny the confirmed realty that my body, my temple; was indeed violated. 15 years old, it all took a turn for the worse when I engaged in conversation with myself and asked, “Sexual piece of meat, deserving of being on everyone’s plate; is this the depth of my fate? Is this all that I am to be? How dare I love myself?” I then concluded, “I HATE ME!” Furthering my thinking of self-hate, I decided the only way to be in control of what I can’t find balance in was to inflict pain on all that I know, me. Soon, I gave birth to blades as I became the nurturer of life, transpired as a cutter. After almost 10 years of processing sexual trauma upon understanding what has happened to me, my voice began to find herself. The rage that had consumed me in silence and kept my lips from uttering the words that my heart was screaming with regard to being a victim of sexual assault in my adolescent years withered. With feelings of empowerment and the bravery and strength to persist beyond labels, I was grounded once again; only to be crushed and diminished within minutes in the form of rape in adulthood, at 23 years of age. Molestation and rape are far too common experiences part of life’s narratives for children, women, and men. In our present day, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds and tragically, every 8 minutes; that victim is a child (RAINN, 2018).

In a whirlwind of trying to understand how rape could be another element of my reality, in addition to being molested, violated, and sexualized at such a young age, I kept asking myself, “how could I allow rape to happen to me at 23 years old?” Ashamed and embarrassed; the voice I had that just started to come up disappeared and I walked around, once again, feeling less than whole. Living in more of a twilight zone of worlds of progress and regression, I carried on walking the streets of the earth feeling misplaced and broken in a million internal pieces creating an Untitled (Skull) masterpiece externally that is Basquiat. I was a lost soul, roaming and hoping to find peace and understanding of how I can excel in many aspects of my life, while once again living through the trauma of sexual assault.

After years of highs and lows within life experiences full of guidance, support, affirmation, and comfort, and trust; eventually and gratefully I transitioned from living the life of a victim of sexual assault into living the life of a survivor of sexual assault. I knew the voice I carried needed to be shared and I was ready. No longer could the voice that had once been silenced by family due to cultural expectations of “what happens in the family stays in the family” and the societal norms of rape culture that have silenced victims and prevented them from coming forward and holding perpetrators accountable be silenced! To me, it all had to come to an end. Motivated by the stories of others and encouraged to be myself unapologetically by digging deep and putting in the work through counseling and speaking with loved ones that I trusted, I learned to share my story and I encourage others to do the same because you are not alone and in solidarity, I LOVE YOU!

The “100 Women Project: Survivors in Solidarity” is a photoshoot/reflection testament of the voices that need to be heard both by survivors and allies of sexual assault. This event brought men and women together to reflect on the experiences of sexual assault and what that means for survivors and allies who coexist in this world. Asking that SURVIVORS wear PURPLE (the color of royalty) and ALLIES wear RED (the color of love), survivors were meant to feel the warmth and all that is empowerment and love from allies. Additionally, allies witnessed and reflected on the bravery of survivors and their experiences as individuals and groups of people who would like to or have provided support. The captured images put faces in front of the story (not behind) and the reflections gathered served as written thoughts of one’s narrative to provide you all with the blog post below.

This piece is a collaborative representation of the solidarity that exists among survivors and allies of sexual assault as I hope to share some insight and contribute to the conversation discussing the following:

1. What Does It Mean to Be a Survivor of Sexual Assault?

2. What Survivors of Sexual Assault and Allies to Sexual Assault Survivors Struggle With?

3. Advice From Sexual Assault Survivors To Allies?

4. What Does It Means To Be An Ally To Sexual Assault Survivors?

5. Advice From Allies of Sexual Assault Survivors to Survivors of Sexual Assault?

Below are some experiences shared by survivors, allies, and myself.

  1. What Does It Mean to Be a Survivor of Sexual Assault?

Living life as a survivor of sexual assault means you understand the strength that you possess does not always require that you have to share your story with everyone. It is your choice to share your story at a time you feel most comfortable. Being a survivor of sexual assault means that you are finding light in the darkness that is your reality. As a survivor, some of you may feel that you must constantly have to find moments to smile. While the desire to constantly smile are valid, also know that it is ok to cry and take in the pain; for healing as a survivor is not only a one-time reality. You must not work hard to smile the pain away. Survival is a constant effort to live in your truest self authentically and to accept when it hurts; shying away-not from the pain, but from the desire to ignore all that is painful and disguise it as progress. Smile, because you mean it, not because you have to fake it. Living as a survivor means you are resilient, nothing and no one can tare you down. You may fall off the wheel, you may trip over a step or two, but you will NEVER give up and become a victim to your circumstances because you are stronger than your perpetrator. As a survivor, you must stand strong; knowing you are not the one to blame, affirming that recovery is reality and there are people who believe you and want to hear from you. Being a survivor of sexual assault means that you will feel alone, even during this time of #MeToo and #TimesUp, because being a survivor of sexual assault is more than a hashtag, popular because of the impact and influence of social media. Real life is different from the virtual world. However, there is comradery in these hashtags as they are a representation of stories of pain, stories of fear, stories of embarrassment, stories of shame, stories of rejection, stories of disbelief, stories of loneliness, stories of people being misunderstood; but most importantly, stories of survival and stories of self-love. It is a challenge living in a world where no one wants to hear about sexual assault, but now is the time to share your voice and your story. You, I, and WE are listening!2. What Survivors of Sexual Assault and Allies to Sexual Assault Survivors Struggle With?

Being a survivor of sexual assault is an encompassing identity that entails levels of empowerment, intertwined with moments of hopelessness. Imagine sharing your story with those you care about, and suddenly having those individuals run away. Imagine struggling to understand your self-worth and wondering if you are worthy of any love at all-all the time; even with your soul-mate. Imagine struggling with constant flashbacks of such traumatic experiences (often times when it’s least expected) and having questions upon questions come to mind, and little answers appear in reply. Imagine being so angry that it clouds your lips and all that you say rips the hearts of those who care about you. Imagine not even realizing you were even a victim, and then suddenly you understand such reality to be true to you. Allies, survivors of sexual assault struggle with the trauma immensely, but that struggle does not take away from their power and their deserving of life. Sometimes, the journey through struggling to be our own hero to recognizing we are indeed survivors, is a reality, and one deserving of recognition, not further silencing; by allies and survivors alike. Let us be kind to each other in regard to the journey towards progress.

Survivors of sexual assault, you must understand that true allies would like to provide you with support-though it is not always easy. As an ally, one may struggle with not having noticed that such traumatic events took place in your life and that your spirit has been struggling with such trauma at all. As a loved one, allies are battling the balance of helping you, while also possibly feeling guilty that they could not protect you and do more to help you. Allies may not always know how to be utilized but want to be useful. With a desire to band together with their peers, allies may also feel challenged by them as standing together means coming together to make change and education happen with regard to sexual assault awareness, but not everyone wants to learn. Allies may not always get it right (no one does) but the good ones will keep trying and be there when you need them most. Allies, know that we see you and we thank you, even when we can’t say it.

3. Advice From Sexual Assault Survivors To Allies?

Allies and caregivers are essential in the healthy journey to living life as a survivor of sexual assault. With good intentions, survivors understand that allies would like to be supportive and understanding. In the journey of allyship however, remember to always be willing to listen without judgement and making assumptions when hearing a survivor’s story. Know that being the rock that a survivor needs takes intentional and sensitive efforts. Survivors possess more strength than you may think. As an ally, be patient. It is not always easy for a survivor to share their story, but it is important that you help survivors continue to heal to be able to live their lives with resiliency and happiness. Survivors do care for their allies, but their world has been shaken in ways that can’t be expressed, sometimes not matter how hard they try. Encourage survivors to seek counseling and support from as many people they can allow and get yourself some support as well, because being an ally can be tough and draining work. Remember, time will allow for a survivor to understand their circumstances, post traumatic stress, and new understanding of self. Trust that in time, survivors will try to share what they need from you as an ally.

4. What Does It Means To Be An Ally To Sexual Assault Survivors?

An ally to a survivor of sexual assault means that you have the responsibility of being supportive as you are there to listen; whether that is in the forefront or in the background, you are there in solidarity, affirmation, confidence, compassion, and empathy! As an ally, you are standing in opposition of the toxic behavior of perpetrators. Survivors of sexual assault need a support system and your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual presence in the lives of a survivor makes all the difference. Being an ally means that you have the strength and courage to “speak up and speak out” on behalf of survivors and victims when needed most, even if the opportunity is not always clearly present. An ally understands that a survivor may not know the ally’s name or story, but the ally is still supportive because of the bigger message. The manifestation of the trauma for sexual assault presents itself in a number of ways in the lives of survivors, because each survivor is different. As an ally, with all the love and empathy in your heart, be actively present in the life of a survivor and believe them! Survivors are grateful for you, do your best to not disappoint them. Ask questions and look into utilizing resources for yourself and survivors/victims when in doubt or in need of further support.

5. Advice From Allies of Sexual Assault Survivors to Survivors of Sexual Assault?

Survivors of sexual assault, believe and trust that allies support you and want to be there for you. Allies want you to understand that they know the power of your strength, the beauty that you possess inside and out, and bravery it takes to constantly take a stand by waking up in the morning, giving love a chance, fulfilling your responsibilities, and always trying to find the good in people. Allies need you to always speak your truths and never lose sight of your truths. Though the affirmation from others may be comforting, as survivors; you must find comfort in speaking your truths, regardless of what any one person may believe. Allies want you to know that you are not alone and they are here to remind you of the importance of practicing self-care and seeking out support. Allies ask that you hold on with hope, trust that your feelings are valid, and that you do not isolate yourself because you are believed. Survivors of sexual assault, allies want you to know that you are more than your story of sexual assault and to never forget; it was and never will be your fault. Survivors of sexual assault, allies care and love you!

Survivors of sexual assault, to you I say . . . NEVER STOP LOVING YOURSELF! To love yourself, is to love all that is you-even what you despise. Not because you are blind to your faults and flaws, but because you understand that ALL of you deserves to be loved and to love anything less of all of you is to be visionless in understanding just how much of an irreplaceable soul you are.

To the survivors of sexual assault and the allies who attended the “100 Women Project: Survivors in Solidarity” event that assisted in providing the verbiage for this blog post, based upon your reflections, I thank you! You all shared your truths through smiles, listening in solidarity, shedding tears, and creating safe spaces. We are all more than traumatic occurrences and responses, we are souls deserving of recognition and celebration due to the strength one exudes; daily.

Thank you to the amazing photographers & videographers who captured the vision behind the lenses of truth & the speakers who shared their words and strength in solidarity.

PHOTO ALBUM: “100 Women Project: Survivors in Solidarity”

LYNE PERIE PHOTOGRAHY & OSA PHOTOGRAPHY

SHOT BY MARV

Video Recap: “100 Women Project: Survivors in Solidarity”

To continue to stay connected with me and my future blog posts, or stay up to date with future speaking engagements, sign up for my mailing list at BernadineTruth.com.

Follow Bernadine: Motivational Speaker|Workshop Facilitator|Spoken Word Artist|Blogger|Radio Personality 

Instagram: BernadineTruth

Facebook: Know Your Truths. Speak Your Truths.

Advertisements
Like It. Love It. Comment. Share It.
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Email this to someone
email
Comments
  • Laura O'Connor
    Reply

    Very nicely done Bernadine! Sorry I couldn’t attend, as I was away.
    Laura O’Connor

Leave a Comment